Last month, a large study in nearly 15,000 male physicians (the Physician’s Health Study II) found that a low-potency multivitamin (Centrum Silver) taken daily (for 11 years) significantly reduced the risk for cancer. Good news for multivitamin users – especially considering that these anti-cancer benefits were found for a very basic “grocery store” multivitamin. These earlier results were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research scientific conference and published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). I’ve written previously about the pros and cons of multivitamin use.
It was somewhat surprising to see the follow up findings from this same study about the lack of benefits of multivitamins in preventing cardiovascular disease. These results were presented yesterday at the American Heart Association’s scientific conference and also published in JAMA. This “lack” of a benefit in preventing heart attacks and strokes, may be due to a number of factors, including the fact that the group of physicians enrolled in this study were already non-smokers eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise. This means that the added benefit of a basic low-potency multivitamin may not have been “enough” of an additional benefit on top of their already-excellent lifestyles to reduce heart disease (like it was for the anti-cancer benefits seen in the earlier analysis).
We’ve known for decades that healthy lifestyle choices can significantly reduce the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer (by up to 80-90% when you consider the combined benefits of diet, exercise, and not smoking). This means that multivitamins are truly the “cherry on top” for people who (like the healthy doctors in these studies) are already doing everything they can to improve their health. For example, several long-term studies of the Mediterranean diet (rich in lean proteins, fish, beans, whole grains, fresh vegetables, and healthy fats) have shown reductions in heart attacks by more than 70% – so if you’re already eating a Mediterranean diet, it’s unlikely that a grocery store multivitamin is going to reduce your heart disease risk much further.
What about the millions of people who don’t eat that healthy diet or who try to eat as healthy as possible, but who sometimes miss a meal or have to hit the fast food drive-thru? THESE are the people who are likely to benefit most from a well-balanced multivitamin – and it’s not too difficult to find a better formula than the low-potency multivitamin used in these studies.
Things to look for in whatever multivitamin you decide to use should include (at a minimum):
- A full complement of highly-absorbed essential vitamins, chelated minerals, and plant-derived fatty acids.
- A full clinically-effective amount of Vitamin D (2,000IU)
- Natural Vitamin E (that includes both tocopherols & tocotrienols)
- Minerals should be provided as fully-reacted amino acid chelates to optimize tolerance (no GI issues) and absorption
In more comprehensive “premium” multivitamin formulas, you might also look for a range of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and “detoxification” phytonutrients such as:
- Anti-inflammatory plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids
- A network of antioxidant phytonutrients (such as Curcuminoids, Phenols, Zingerberenes, & Ursolics)
- Phytonutrients to support phase I & phase II detoxification pathways (such as Glucarates, Silymarins, & Thiols)
Finally, in some of the “ultra-premium” formulas, you’ll find everything above, plus a blend of specialized nutrients to support energy metabolism (fat-burning and lean muscle maintenance), such as:
- Amino acids such as Leucine & HMB (hydroxymethylbutyrate)
- Mitochondrial supportive nutrients such as Beta-Alanine & Quercetin
- Enhancers of beta-oxidation enhancers (fat-burning), such as Fucoxanthin & Fucoidin
I think that these new results about multivitamin usage should remind us all about the benefits of proper balanced supplementation, but even more so remind us of the profound benefits of healthy lifestyle choices. Eating right, getting regular exercise, reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, avoiding tobacco, reducing refined sugars, and consuming enough fruits & veggies all add up to prevent disease, improve vigor, and enhance quality of life in ways that no pill (vitamin or drug) can ever do. Think about why we call them “supplements” – because they’re intended to supplement our other healthy lifestyle choices (not “make up” for them).
Thanks for reading,
About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers), physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) and lifestyle entrepreneur (EMP, Entrepreneurship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Dr. Talbott is the author of 10 books translated into multiple languages and has appeared on numerous media outlets including The Dr Oz Show (about vigor) and The White House (about obesity). He competes in Ironman triathlons and runs ultramarathons – and is sure to take his multivitamins every day.